Brightline’s first train to Orlando, Fla., arrived at 11:05 a.m. on Sept. 22, marking the official start of Miami-to-Orlando passenger rail service, following four years of construction. Bright Pink, built by Siemens Mobility, was greeted by more than 500 elected officials, business leaders, community partners and company leaders, Florida’s private-sector railroad reported.
Service was originally slated to begin this summer, as Brightline celebrated project completion back in June. But additional crew certification and train testing, as well as the arrival of Hurricane Idalia, caused delays.
Brightline now covers 235 miles between Miami and Orlando and the new route takes between 3 and 3-1/2 hours depending on South Florida station stops (see map below). A total of 16 trainsets run daily systemwide. Brightline is initially operating six roundtrips per day; service will be increased in October to 16 roundtrips per day to provide hourly service during the day.
Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon was aboard the first train. “Brightline is the perfect solution for a less-than-300-mile trip,” he reported. “It will take a longer time to drive or fly with all the typical procedures or delays. The main terminal in Miami makes an exceptional impression of train service. The station is clean and modern, and offers many locations for food and drink. Pre-screening security is easy and an important feature for the service. The trains are modern, clean and comfortable. Food service and drinks were very good. The fastest part of the route is when the train curves west from Cocoa Beach to the Orlando airport. Peak speed was 125 mph, when we blew past the cars on the highway. The arrival station in Orlando is just as nice as MiamiCentral. There is a seamless connection to the main terminal area via the airport train. I was easily able to make my 12:09 p.m. flight with a train that got into Orlando at 11:05 a.m.”
Brightline in March made history as the fastest train in Florida, reaching speeds of 130 mph during testing between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Cocoa. Current speeds include up to 79 mph from Miami to West Palm Beach; 110 mph along the Orlando extension from West Palm Beach to Cocoa; and 125 mph from Cocoa to Orlando International Airport.
Brightline launched the first phase of its South Florida operations in 2018, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Stations in Boca Raton and Aventura opened in 2022. Construction of its 170-mile, $6 billion phase two extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando began in 2019, creating 10,000 jobs and approximately $6.4 billion in direct economic impact to the region, according to Brightline. The new extension is expected to reduce highway and city congestion and CO2 emissions by an estimated 72,000 metric tons per year, the railroad said.
Project work included 56 bridges (18 are new), three underpasses, drainage installations, track and signalization installation, and 60 track-miles of new rail.
Over the course of four years, upgrades and improvements were made to 156 railroad crossings. Engineering of double track under active airport taxiways and tug roads and a new 35-mile rail alignment along the Beachline Expressway/SR 528, were also made, Brightline said. Construction wrapped up in June.
The extension to Orlando also included the development of Basecamp, a $100 million, 138,000-square-foot train maintenance facility on 62 acres south of MCO. Competed in 2022, it offers seven miles of maintenance and storage track.
Brightline ordered five new trainsets from Siemens Mobility to support the extension. Each comprises four coaches and two Charger diesel-electric locomotives (one at each end), plus an additional Charger unit. The Chargers meet Tier 4 emissions standards with Cummins QSK95 prime-movers. Siemens debuted the trainsets in September 2021. The first set was delivered in October 2021; Bright Blue 2 arrived in February 2022; Bright Pink 2 and Bright Green 2 arrived in July 2022; and Bright Orange 2 arrived in February 2023.
The trainsets run to the new 37,350-square-foot northern terminus in Orlando, officially named “Brightline Orlando Station in partnership with Orlando Health.” Located adjacent to MCO’s new Terminal C, the Orlando Station stands three-stories tall, including a 72,000-square-foot platform area. It connects directly to the airport’s Parking Garage C, which will have more than 350 parking spaces marked for Brightline riders, and provides direct access to airport terminals A and B via the airport Terminal Link (automated people mover) in less than five minutes, according to Brightline. Ground transportation and mobility options at Orlando Station include Brightline+ first-mile/last-mile services, such as MEARS shuttles, Uber rideshare, and car rental options through Avis. Brightline unveiled the completed terminal and its amenities in April.
Brightline’s southern terminus, MiamiCentral, is located on an 11-acre complex in downtown Miami, featuring rental residences, commercial offices, and retail and entertainment space. Brightline+ and Miami Metromover and Metrorail are connected to it. South Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter rail service is expected to reach MiamiCentral by the end of 2023 or early next year.
“Today is an historic event for Brightline and the state of Florida that represents a decade of hard work and determination,” said Wes Edens, Co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, the owner of Brightline.
“We are charting a new path for innovation and transportation, and people are responding as we knew they would,” Brightline CEO Mike Reininger said. “I am excited to see millions of guests choose a smarter way to travel.”
“Brightline’s Orlando Station sets a new benchmark for transportation between two of Florida’s busiest regions, with a seamless, convenient experience that caters to today’s modern traveler,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard said. “We’ve curated an experience—both in our gleaming stations and onboard our trains—that exceeds the benefit of time-savings alone.”
“FRA congratulates Brightline on opening their new Orlando station, and we’re eager to see more Floridians and riders benefit from the transportation options this station and route will provide,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. “We know more Americans want and deserve world-class passenger rail, and when those services are fast, frequent, and efficient, that means greater convenience, less congestion on highways and at airports, and cleaner air in local communities. Whether through financial support or our role as a safety regulatory, FRA is proud to support efforts that make these benefits a reality for more people.”
“A multimodal vision of planes, trains and automobiles inspired by Orlando International Airport leaders nearly 50 years ago has come to fruition, making this a truly historic day in Florida transportation,” Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Kevin J. Thibault said. “We warmly welcome Brightline and the beginning of intercity high-speed rail service, which will provide mobility for the unprecedented growth our region is seeing and promote economic activity that benefits us all.”
Brightline’s phase two service into central Florida also includes plans for an extension to Tampa, first reported in 2018. Stay tuned.
For more on the Brightline Orlando project, read “Rolling Into Orlando,” by Railway Age Engineering Editor and RT&S Editor-in-Chief David C. Lester.
In a related development, Brightline in August launched a redesigned website and new native mobile app.